Fever Dreams

I spent much of yesterday insane.  I mean this quite literally.

The highest that I actually measured my temperature was 102.6, but I suspect that there was some selection bias there, in that to measure my temperature I had to be competent to operate a thermometer.  An easier to fact-check set of statistics is items I managed to saturate with sweat: six shirts, five towels (including one beach towel), and all my pillowcases were strewn about in still-damp bundles when it came time to fill the washing machine today.  My fever finally broke sometime around 2:00 am, after which it dawned on me just how strange my cognition had been for most of the previous 24 hours.

I didn’t have an experiential referent for “fever dream” before, but yesterday I spent well over an hour in intense mental negotiation with a bottle of tylenol.  The balance of the situation had to be carefully, maintained, you see.  All of the relevant energies–both political and ethereal–taken into account, else disaster.   It was crucial that the bottle of tylenol not be allowed, under any circumstances, to notice the tension in my jaw, or all would be irretrievably lost.  This interaction between myself and the bottle was, in my mind, as furious as it was protracted.  And yet if you were to have walked into my bedroom and watched it take place, what you would have seen was me lying completely motionless for a very long time with my bloodshot eyes locked on a small white bottle sitting ten inches from my face, hair plastered to a head full to bursting with primo crazy.

Curiously, there was no visual component to this experience.  I was not hallucinating, merely beset by flagrantly nonrational concerns and obsessions.  Fever dreams.  Anyone else have experience with this phenomenon?

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  1. Not in relation to a fever, but in college, during certain times of heavy stress and high sleep deprivation, I occasionally thought that my floor was going to eat me (unless, of course, I wore an extra pair of socks so it couldn’t smell my feet.)

    My theory is that at certain (overtaxed) times, our brains can’t tell what’s a legit threat and what isn’t, so they start throwing out “danger! danger! pay attention to that!” tags at random. If the “danger” tag lands on a wholly innocuous entity, the rest of our brain then has to scramble around constructing an elaborate reason. Since the “danger” tag makes us feel that we’re in very real peril, and our rational thinking centers are already overtaxed, the logic circuits never cut in and sort things out.

    [One of the prime indicators of schizophrenia — which has a delusional component as well as a hallucinogenic — is that they do not select & focus on environmental stimuli in normative patterns. They don’t habituate very well to already-presented stims, and they devote as much attention to unimportant stimuli (the black distractors) as they do to the important ones (the red target letters). I think this inability to sort out important environmental cues from unimportant ones is a key factor in delusional disorders; of course, I R not grad student and have no way of testing this.]

  2. Wow, Sarah, such a reasoned response!

    To the extent that I understand, I agree. I can just add to that a sort of terror, which is what I’ve experienced, that I was going crazy. Drifting in and out of reality, where everything looks weird and makes no sense. Or that the sensations will never end, and I will always feel dazed and disoriented, unable to move from the couch ever again. This translates into despair and open hostility toward the person(s) trying to help and encourage me when I am feverish and delusional.

    It’s a stark reminder of what differentiates humans from other animals. Break down our reason and ability to organize thoughts and motives, and then watch us lose control. That’s scary to me.

  3. Whenever my temperature gets really high, I sing to myself. And I usually sing children’s songs.

  4. Your recent posts and Twitter make me want to email you chicken soup or something.

  5. Sarah: The “logic circuits” never cutting in seems like the core of it to me. There’s some process of meta-cognition or pattern breaking which is normally there that seems to have failed for this kind of delirium to be possible. I don’t really have the language to discuss this competently, but I’ve just started reading Daniel Dennett’s CONSCIOUSNESS EXPLAINED, and find his model highly convincing so far–I’ll have to start thinking about how it applies to these instances of broken consciousness as I work my way through it.

    Tracie: My mother actually offered to make me chicken soup, but I declined. Mostly because it’s no good cold, and after my day of fever and sweating I didn’t want to be near anything hot ever again. But I have antibiotics now, and I think I’m on the mend. Do avoid going on immunosuppression if you can; it turns what should be mere annoyances into major time sinks.

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